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Heart of Darkness

by: Joseph Conrad

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Why does Heart of Darkness have two competing heroes? Make the case for either Marlow or Kurtz as the true “hero” of the book.

2. Discuss the framing story that structures Heart of Darkness. Why is it important to narrate Marlow in the act of telling his story?

3. Interpret Kurtz’s dying words (“The horror! The horror!”). What do they mean? What are the possible “horrors” to which he is referring? Why is Marlow the recipient of Kurtz’s last words?

4. Contrast Kurtz’s African mistress with his Intended. Are both negative portrayals of women? Describe how each functions in the narrative. Does it make any difference in your interpretation to know that Conrad supported the women’s suffrage movement?

5. Describe the use of “darkness” both in the book’s title and as a symbol throughout the text. What does darkness represent? Is its meaning constant or does it change?

6. How does physical illness relate to madness? How does one’s environment relate to one’s mental state in this book?

7. Why does Marlow lie to Kurtz’s fiancée about Kurtz’s last words? Why not tell her the truth, or tell her that Kurtz had no last words, rather than affirming her sentimental and mundane ideas?